Curt Topps hat

Topps

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I wrote this on my old Shysterball blog back in 2007. Sorry for the re-run, but (a) it’s Christmas and I have better things to be doing this morning than blogging; and (b) only a handful of people read Shysterball back in the day, so I’m sure most of you haven’t seen this anyway.  Either way, I think it holds up.  Merry Christmas, everyone.

 

My brother lives in San Diego and I live in Ohio, so I maybe see him twice a year. It’s been that way since he left home for the Navy the day after Thanksgiving eighteen years ago. I was sixteen then. I finished my last two years of high school, went on to college and law school, got married, had kids, and settled down in the Midwest. He spent six years on an Aegis cruiser, a couple more at Coronado, and took his discharge in 1997. Since then he has worked as a club DJ, dipped a toe in and then back out of the goth scene, spent time with a number of shady women before meeting a nice one, played Kato Kaelin to the lead singer of a notable synth-pop band, and most recently has performed product preparation and distribution services for a large Irvine, California-based concern. That’s him in the picture to the right, taken when we crashed the club level restaurant at Petco Park back in 2007.

In terms of distance, Curt and I haven’t lived within 500 miles of one another since he left home. By all other measures we haven’t been in the same solar system since then. We get along just fine and talk on the phone regularly, but if we weren’t brothers our adult paths would probably never cross. We live in wildly different worlds, speak wildly different languages, and pass the time doing wildly different things. I love him unconditionally, but we tend to get on each others’ nerves from time to time, and neither of us truly understands where in the hell the other is coming from.

But it wasn’t always that way. We were close as kids, with a lot of common interests, the most notable among them being baseball. We were both huge Tigers’ fans (his favorite player was Lou Whitaker; mine was Alan Trammell). We played on little league teams together for a while (he being the talented but uninterested one, I the exact opposite). But more than watching or playing the game itself, it was our love of baseball cards that brought us together as kids.

It started with the cutouts on the back of Hostess boxes in 1976 or 1977, and moved on to the Kellogg’s 3-D superstars a year or two later. In those days Dad worked with a guy who split his time as a card dealer, and once he saw how crazy we were about the things, cards just started showing up around the house. We’d go over to his house and trade for some. Or we’d buy some from him at highly discounted rates. I suspect a lot of them were just given to us per some arrangement between Lloyd and my dad. Between that kind of thing and the traditional spend-every-penny-we-ever-saw-on-wax-packs approach, by the mid-80s we had tens of thousands of cards spilling out of boxes in every spare corner of the house.

As is the case with just about every kid, however, our interest in cards waned as our interest in girls waxed. Even if it hadn’t, the hyper-commercialization of baseball cards in the late 80s would have done it anyway (we hoarded, sorted, traded, and oggled cards like mad, but I can’t recall a single instance in which we ever sold one). By the time Curt shipped out, they had been placed in plastic sheets or monster boxes in the basement and, while not forgotten, certainly not thought about all that much. Over the years, as my parents’ addresses became increasingly erratic and mine more permanent, the cards migrated to my basement where they currently sit and are rarely disturbed. In the past couple of years Curt has asked me to ship him certain cards from our communal stash as he began dabbling in hockey cards and was in need of trade bait, but other than that I’ve had no real cause to go through them. Hell, the last inventory of them was typed up using the Speedscript word processor on my Commodore 64.

Last week, Curt flew in from San Diego for a couple of days for his annual Christmas visit. The night before he flew back home, we exchanged Christmas gifts. We tend to be a family who doesn’t go over the top with these things, so I was understandably dumbfounded when I opened my gift from him: the entire 1973 Topps set (my birth year) in plastic sheets in a notebook. With a couple of very tiny exceptions, the whole thing is in mint or near mint condition.

He didn’t just go out and buy it in one shot, though, as a guy working at In-n-Out Burger tends not to have that kind of money laying around. Rather, he began picking up stuff here and there months ago (our childhood collection had almost no 1973s), trading some import records for some of this, trading vintage clothing for some of that, and only biting the bullet and straight-up buying stuff in only a handful of cases. It was truly a labor of love on his part which, given how much flak I’ve given him for so many things over the years — including, ironically enough, his habit for hording, selling, and trading records and vintage clothes when he could be out doing something more productive — was every bit as undeserved as it was unexpected.

As I sit here this evening poring over the notebook full of ’73s — highlights of which, at the risk of invading Josh Wilker’s turf, I plan to blog in the next couple of days* — I’m wondering why someone from whom I’ve grown so far apart over the years would make such a thoughtful and touching gesture, especially given how hard I’ve been on him. But I suppose that’s Christmas. I suppose that’s family. I suppose, most of all, that’s Curt.

Thanks, bro.

*I did, in fact, blog the 1973 set a few days later. It may be the most unintentionally hilarious baseball card set of all time.

Must-Click Link: The Turbulent Final Year of Yordano Ventura’s Life

KANSAS CITY, MO - OCTOBER 23:  Yordano Ventura #30 of the Kansas City Royals reacts in the sixth inning while taking on the Toronto Blue Jays in game six of the 2015 MLB American League Championship Series at Kauffman Stadium on October 23, 2015 in Kansas City, Missouri.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
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The Kansas City Star has covered the death of Yordano Ventura and its aftermath in a thorough, thoughtful, respectful and admirable fashion and it has all been compelling to read, even if it’s often been difficult to read. Their latest story may be the most difficult, though it is nonetheless essential.

It covers the final year of Ventura’s life which, sadly, was tumultuous. He had become estranged from his family. He was married to a woman who, at the time of the ceremony, was still married to her first husband and whose family, allegedly, later made threats against Ventura that we’re only now learning about. This includes allegations of armed men accosting Ventura at his home near the Royals spring training facility a year ago. An incident which led to him missing time due to “flulike symptoms,” but which, in reality, caused him considerable mental distress. He was again threatened, it is claimed, in Kansas City during the season. There is also an allegation that Ventura attempted suicide via an overdose of Benadryl, though that is disputed.

Beyond that, there is an arc to the end of Ventura’s life which sounds unfortunately familiar. It’s a story of a young man whose life changed dramatically in a very, very short period of time and who struggled at times to process the changes. Were it not for a fateful drive on a dark and winding road one night in late January, they all could’ve been things that, as his career matured, he could look back on as learning experiences. Now that he’s gone, however, they form the final, tragic chapter.

Report: Royals and Eric Hosmer have discussed a long-term contract extension

SAN DIEGO, CA - JULY 12:  Eric Hosmer #35 of the Kansas City Royals and the American League rounds the bases after hitting a home run against the National League in the 2nd inning of the 87th Annual MLB All-Star Game at PETCO Park on July 12, 2016 in San Diego, California.  (Photo by Denis Poroy/Getty Images)
Denis Poroy/Getty Images
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Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports reports that the Royals and first baseman Eric Hosmer have discussed a long-term contract extension. However, Hosmer also indicated that he will head into free agency if a deal is not consummated by Opening Day.

Hosmer, 27, avoided arbitration with the Royals last month, agreeing to a $12.25 million salary for the 2017 season. He is one of four key Royals players who can become a free agent after the season along with Mike Moustakas, Alcides Escobar, and Lorenzo Cain. If Hosmer does reach free agency, he would arguably be the top free agent first baseman.

Hosmer finished the past season hitting .266/.328/.433 with 25 home runs and 104 RBI while making his first All-Star team.